A New Cross-Cultural Coming Out Story

A closeted Pakistani woman falls for an out Latina in Fawzia Mirza's "Signature Move."

Coming out stories are well-traveled territory for films, but Signature Move brings a different perspective to the genre with a cross-cultural lesbian love story.

The dramedy follows Zaynab (screenwriter-and-star Fawzia Mirza), a Pakistani Muslim woman living in Chicago with her reclusive mother, Parveen (Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi), who worries Zaynab will never find a husband. Zaynab is into women, though—and unexpectedly falls for Mexican-American lesbian Alma (Sari Sanchez).

Signature Move

Unlike closeted Zaynab, Alma is out and proud—in fact her mom (Audrey Francis) is her biggest ally. And she refuses to go back in the closet for Zaynab.

“The term ’coming out’ can sometimes be problematic,” Mirza tells NewNowNext. “It’s not as inclusive of all LGBTQ people or experiences. I didn’t ’come out’ the way maybe some of my other friends did.”

As a teen in Indiana, Mirza wasn’t allowed to date boys, wear short skirts, or go to prom. “So how would I suddenly feel comfortable telling my mother, ’Oh, Mom, I’m having sex with women!'”

It’s rare for an American film to capture the immigrant queer experience.

“In some cultures, people don’t talk about certain things,” says Mirza. “They may never talk about them—and that’s okay. Part of us moving forward as a community is seeing our differences, our intersections, and having empathy and understanding, rather than pointing them out as flawed or un-advanced.”

“We can’t live in a progressive bubble,” she adds. “It’s dangerous.”

Calling the movie “a rom-com-meets-Muslim-melodrama,” Mirza insists Signature Move is not just Zaynab and Alma’s romance. It’s also about the connection between mothers and a daughters. And it’s autobiographical: Mirza was inspired to come out herself after falling for a Mexican woman. (though Zaynab’s love of lucha libre is original).

Signature Move

Seeing Muslim families—and especially Muslim women—on screen, says Mirza, can hopefully help change perceptions about her culture.

“One of the things I want people to grasp is the importance of finding and seeing commonalities between people—all people,” she elaborates. “The most radical thing this movie does is depict Muslim women who are really regular people, who don’t need to be saved, who are deeply relatable. We fall in love, we get sad, we feel loss, we get annoyed, we lie, we date, we laugh, we have one-night stands. We make mistakes.”

 

Signature Move is screening now in Chicago and New York.

Trish Bendix is a Los Angeles-based writer.
@trishbendix